These impressive creatures hardly need an introduction as their beguiling looks and demeanour are a wonder and pleasure for many, particularly to very young children, who associate them with intriguing characters from stories such as Winnie-The-Pooh and so forth.

Remarkably, bears are efficient runners, good climbers and strong swimmers. They may be diurnal or nocturnal and they have an excellent sense of smell. The forests of Central Europe provide resources they need, mainly ants, berries, rabbits, fish and more. They live in caves and burrows, using logs to build dens, and hibernate during winter.

What is most noteworthy, these wild but “reserved” and now endangered species are solitary animals and tend to keep away from people and their environment. They usually run off at the immediate sight of humans, including children. But like any living being, bears naturally and instinctively want to warn off and defend themselves against intruders on their paths; no different, really, to the way people and domestic dogs and cats may also respond in similar circumstances.

I say this because various legends beyond children’s stories and modern-day media continue to push the line that “Bears are fierce”. This is not honestly so, as they are at their best when left alone in natural surroundings and not presented as “trophies” elsewhere in tourist and entertainment businesses, which understandably makes them resentful.

To be set upon by a bear is very rare these days. Should you be foolish enough to confront one, you would not stand a chance. Unfortunately, bears are sometimes poached for commercial enterprises, which is not only morally wrong but also illegal under new protection orders. To get the best out of enjoying bears in any region; refer to local advice about where to see (or avoid) these creatures without endangering yourself or indeed them.

Although most of Europe's wild bear population in this geographical area lives mainly in Transylvania and the Ukrainian Carpathians, there have been occasional reports about odd strays being spotted in the forested peaks of Nograd Megye, north of Budapest on the Slovakia border. I am very sure these nearby forests are safe as I often go there. Or if not, public warnings would be issued right away.

Should any intrusion or incident occur, tact is required at all times, as bears obviously need to be guided and controlled so that all involved remain safe. Local people must work on this too and accept responsibility by not having their dustbins smell of food, or keeping the farm gate closed and so on. If people don’t use their common sense, it can end in persecution of bears, wolves and others for what are just natural instincts in the interest of survival.


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Seeing bears in zoos is simple enough but not as impressive as seeing them in far larger, natural surroundings. For those who fancy a day out and wish to see these magnificent animals I recommend taking the family to the Medveotthon Bear Sanctuary at Veresegyház, a small town near Gödöllő, just east of Budapest.

This cheerful and safe place covers almost two hectares, has a farm-like atmosphere and is very children-friendly, offering pony rides, face-painting and adventure playground areas. A restaurant serves traditional Hungarian cuisine.

There are chances for all to feed their new-found furry friends through a fence with honey on a very long spoon. This is always well received by the bears, and they may follow you around the enclosure in the hope of more.

There are also pigs and deer, making for not only a fun day for the kids but also an educational one in which to learn more about these perhaps misunderstood species in a well-suited environment close to the city.

See www.medveotthon.hu for information on opening hours and special events that take place throughout most of the year. I suggest going during the week, as it can be very busy at weekends.

Marvellous though this is, it may be too “tame” for some, and to see the real thing with bears in their natural environment, a professional guide is required. Should you be in Székely Land in Romania, I recommend contacting Nature and Wildlife Tours Transylvania as seen on Facebook.

These “bear tours” are arranged by appointment, in my case with specialist host and expert ecologist Norbert. He will take you into the wild to see his “friends” and explain all about them. But that's another story for next time.

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